A different type of Islamic fighter coming to Syria from Iraq

Sayyid Zainab Mosque, Damascus (Credit:HappyTellus.com) 

There has been much media attention on the numbers of Jihadi fighters coming from Iraq to participate in the Syrian uprising (see my piece here). Indeed no one can now argue that elements of the Syrian rebels have been helped by these experienced fighters. These fighters, mainly connected to the Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), are predominately responsible. However in recent months there has been rising numbers of Shia fighters heading to the front in Syria. This has especially increased in the months after June this year when a car bomb detonated in the area around the Sayyida Zainab mosque on the outskirts of Damascus. This mosque is revered by Shia Muslims as the burial place of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandaughter, Zainab, who is also the daughter of Imam Ali, a figure that defines the Sunni Shia divide in the Muslim world.  For Shia muslims the thought of this holy site being devastated by war is extremely painful. Because of this as well as the increasing dilution of the conflict by Sunni extremists (as seen by the group Jabhat al Nusra) many Shia from Iraq have travelled to Damascus to defend this holy site. (see here for a great NY times article). There are even rumours of Iraqi Shia militias going to the defense of this site, such as Jaish al Mehdi (JAM), better known as the Mehdi Army headed by the Shia cleric Moqtadr al Sadr. With the conflict involving in more and more actors,  it is only a matter of time before the conflict takes on a more convoluted nature.

J Robinson

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